Virtual Safe Deposit Boxes Can Assure Orderly Wealth Transfer

December 22, 2009
Carl Skip Rapp

Executors' jobs can be made easier through the use of virtual safe deposit boxes. These web-accessible storage "vaults" preserve and protect digitized estate-related documents for a monthly fee, enabling all parties to access them conveniently at the discretion of the holder.

All too often, estate executors aren’t prepared for the rigors that go with the role. Typically, they’re relatives or close friends of the deceased instead of professionals, and the amount of work involved is often far greater than they ever imagined.

The larger and more complex an estate is, the greater the workload for executors. As individuals with high incomes, many physicians amass substantial value in financial investments, real property and other assets. The nature of the work that brings these assets—long practice hours with little time for organizing estates–can create circumstances that increase the headaches of executors.

Executors often set about their duties optimistically, only to later feel the weight of their responsibilities crashing down on them as they learn that the job involves far more that just reading the will and notifying beneficiaries.

Increasingly, wealthy individuals are making executors’ jobs easier by assuring the preservation of family legacies and orderly wealth transfer through the use of virtual safe deposit boxes. These web-accessible storage “vaults” preserve and protect digitized estate-related documents for a monthly fee, enabling benefactors to organize them and allowing beneficiaries, family members and estate planners to access them conveniently at the discretion of the holder.

Disarray of estate-related documents is more common than many might imagine. Not only does this make the executor’s job more difficult, but also threatens the welfare of beneficiaries; assets that aren’t identified by executors automatically go to the state as though no will existed. And ambiguities about holdings, created by incomplete or contradictory documentation, can lead to conflicts among beneficiaries and ill will toward executors that may result in lawsuits.

Surprisingly, the most time-consuming and, in many case, the most expensive aspect of estate settlement involves finding and gathering together documents. Often, these documents are strewn across the country in relatives’ homes, lawyers’ safes, accountants’ files, bank safe deposit boxes, file cabinets in the departed’s basement and who knows where else.

People who have safes in their homes often put things in them other than estate-related documents. These items may include family photos, family history, genealogic records, autobiographies, unpublished novels, letters, diaries, audio and video recordings and other documentary items that carry information and images of their lives. To the extent that such items can be digitized, they can be stored in the same virtual safe deposit boxes that protect estate documents.

These “boxes,” infinitely larger than any safe, are about life as much as death. Indeed, they can house the story of a life well lived. In this sense, they can make an appropriate gift — especially for those who lack organization skills.

Moreover, digital safe deposit boxes are extremely secure. Unlike a safe or a physical safe deposit box at a bank, digital storage offers virtually unlimited volume in a controlled environment. In many cases, capacities tend to range from well under one gigabyte to two gigabytes.

When evaluating providers, it’s best to seek one that offers a high degree of encryption, uses state-of-the-art software and ensures that all data is stored and hosted in ultra-secure installations, such as the multi-fire-walled, redundantly backed-up installations used by large financial services companies.

Virtual safe deposit boxes are as much a service as they are a device. Some providers offer box-holders information about estate management and settlement, and prompt users to address lapses and oversights. Wills are frequently kept in a drawer or filing cabinet and largely ignored, so there’s no impetus to consider revisions. Digital prompts to holders of digital safe deposit boxes can spur action to address lapses that would otherwise go overlooked.

The uses of virtual safe deposit boxes are seemingly infinite. For example, they can be helpful in filing disaster recovery claims. If a home is damaged by fire or flood, authentication documents, photos or other evidence can be used to back up insurance claims regarding damaged fine art, jewelry, collectibles or other valuables.

Other uses include storing medical records so that they’re easily accessible, should the holder become ill or injured while traveling. Another mishap that can ruin a vacation abroad is losing one’s passport. A print of a downloaded copy is no substitute for the original, but it immeasurably speeds up the process of obtaining a new original from the consul’s office.

Thus, digital safe deposit boxes offer myriad benefits to enhance the life of the holder as well as the well-being of beneficiaries.

Carl Rapp is CEO of Executor’s Resource, a Colorado-based company that provides digital wealth-transfer solutions